Good-looking little Mirage offers plenty of bang for your buck

Whew - you no longer need to feel like a loser or sneak into a dealership in disguise if you have to buy a car in the under-$19,000 bracket. Mitsubishi's the one to thank for rescuing budget buyers' self-esteem with the launch of an all-new car wearing an old, old badge: the Mirage.

Although the base LS lists for $18,990, there's little that's cheap about it. Instead of an overtly low-rent interior, it's trimmed to look like something that's well into the $20,000s and offers heaps of room for the body's modest dimensions.

The boot also has generous space - among the best in its class - and the rear seats split/fold 60-40 to turn it into a wee wagon.

New Mirage is a good looker from the outside. Contemporary lines avoid those silly extremes on some of the latest small hatches. Mirage makes the outgoing Colt family look frumpy.


But the real story is fuel economy. The LS is rated at 4.6 litres per 100km overall, the "luxury" GLS at a few sips more. And that's with an automatic transmission. It's not offered here with a manual.

But forget the official fuel ratings. Mitsubishi highlighted the hybrid-busting consumption with an economy run from Wellington to Otaki, via suburban side roads. Some motoring writers at the launch achieved less than 4 litres per 100km without trying particularly hard; most - including Driven in third place - managed to better the official rating. That kind of economy should get you from Auckland to Wellington for about $60.

Another key to the good mileage is a new 1.2-litre SmartMIVEC three-cylinder engine producing 58kW at 6000rpm and 102Nm of torque at 4000rpm. Although those are modest output figures, they only have to deal with a curb weight of less than 900kg and a slippery body with a drag co-efficient of 0.30.

It drinks 91 octane from a 35-litre tank and emits 106g per km of CO2 - 113g in GLS configuration.

The engine sounds noisy and a bit stressed when asked to accelerate briskly, but it's a smooth and unobtrusive cruiser. Don't ask too much of it on the 0-100km/h run, though.

The thrifty automatic is a new Jatco CVT that uses both belts and planetary gears. The planetary gears help provide brisk get-up-and-go, then the electronics call on the belts appears out of nowhere to take over to provide economical cruising. Its operation is seamless and looks to work well.

Mirage isn't lacking safety gear, with driver, passenger, side and curtain airbags, ABS, stability and traction control and electronic brakeforce distribution (EBD). There's a three-point seatbelt at each of the three rear seat positions and a pair of ISOFIX child-seat mounting points.

Ventilated disc brakes are at the front, drums at the back.

It's just won a five-star ANCAP safety rating.

The GLS version costs $3000 more than the LS and swaps manual air conditioning for climate control, goes to 15-inch alloys from 14-inch steels, adds fog lights and bits and pieces such as a spoiler. Driven reckons an LS is the better deal.

All Mirages come with a five-year, 130,000km warranty (the fourth and fifth years are at the dealer's discretion) and another five years worth of powertrain coverage, but only after inspection and acceptance by a Mitsi dealer. There's also five years of roadside assist.

That's all good news for retirees on their last car, and for fleets, but Mitsubishi's also aiming the car at a younger market with colours including a hot yellow called Wasp, the bright green shown in the photos, called Wasabi, and Red Velvet.

"They're the most dynamic colours we've ever offered," beamed marketing spokesman Daniel Cook.

However, despite the bright colours and other attributes, Mitsubishi's not expecting to knock small-car champ Suzuki Swift off its pedestal soon. They're predicting sales of around 100 a month, half of the Suzuki's typical volume.

Miracle Mirage

Mitsubishi's gone all out to push the Mirage name, first introduced to New Zealand in 1978.

Mirage was one of Mitsubishi's best-ever sellers here and helped the company briefly take overall sales leadership.

More than 51,000 Mirage hatchbacks were sold to New Zealand owners, just a drop in the
more than five million in 160 countries.

A 1983 Mirage Panther with only about 130,000km on its odometer led the procession of
21st century Mirages during the media launch programme.

The return of Mirage name has generated huge interest in Mitsubishi's social media
marketing programme, seemingly proving that the oldies are the goodies and that more than three decades later, the name retains tremendous pulling power.

It has achieved the highest number of visits to the Mitsubishi website in its history.

One visitor commented: ''I had a Mirage Panther.
''But wait, there's more; it had a bullbar.

''What a winner.''

Imagine what they could have achieved if they'd called it the Marmite.